true crime

Why the year 2033 could bring a new wave of serial killers.

It was December 1979. A Sunday morning. Canadian film production assistant Peter Vronsky had become stranded in New York while on a job, and so sought shelter in a seedy, cheap hotel in Hell’s Kitchen for the weekend.

After checking in, the 23-year-old waited for the lift, and waited. It seemed to be stuck on a higher floor. When it eventually reached the lobby, Vronsky, tired and frustrated, glared at the man who stepped out. He had a lightly chubby face, slicked with a sheen of perspiration despite the cold. His eyes seemed empty, his stare blank.

“As he got off the elevator he walked into me, as if I was not there – walked through me – bonking me on the knee and shin with a soft-sided bag,” Vronsky wrote in his book Sons of Cain. “He didn’t say anything, apologise or even give me a glance back.”

Moments later, the fire alarm rang out, sending guest spilling out onto West 42 Street. Upstairs, a blaze engulfed a room. Within lay the mutilated remains of 22-year-old Deedeh Goodarzi and another sex worker whose identity remains unknown. The women had been raped, tortured, dismembered and torched.

It was six months before Vronsky opened a newspaper and learned a killer had been caught. A man by the name of Richard Cottingham. A man with a lightly chubby face and empty eyes…

Richard Cottingham.

That 10 second encounter with "The Times Square Torso Ripper", who was ultimately convicted of murdering six people, sparked Vronsky's fascination with understanding the origins and motivations of serial killers.

Today, he's dedicated his work as an investigative historian to that pursuit, and it's led him to a rather unsettling theory.

After examining data around the profile of serial killers and their prevalence, the Ryerson University lecturer has suggested that America could experience a swell of serial homicides in the next 15-20 years.

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According Vrosnky, the last such period occurred between 1970 and 1999; an era in which 82 percent of 20th Century American serial killers made their appearance. Think Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer.

But why? Well, as he explained in an interview with VICE Canada, "Serial killers, statistically on average kill for the first time at 28, but their fantasies, however, begin developing as early as five."

Ted Bundy confessed to 30 homicides. Image: Getty.

Given research into serial killers overwhelming identifies early childhood trauma or environmental problems (such as divorce, abuse, neglect) as a common denominator, Vrosky turned to what was occurring, socially, culturally, that may have fuelled this in households when Bundy etc. were young.

"If you look to when they were growing up there were two major events: the Great Depression, which decimated a generation of men that should of been the breadwinners; and WWII, which would have traumatised a lot of fathers and left a lot of broken families," he told VICE.

Vronsky argues the 21st Century equivalents could have a similar impact on young Americans. The war on terror which has taken fathers and mothers away to battle and torn families apart, and the 2008 global financial crisis, which left thousands jobless and destitute.

"What worries me is are we facing a generation of children who are going to hit the average age of 28 in some 20 or 15 years from now, and are we going to see an increase in serial homicides along with other societal problems," he said.

"It's not automatic that one becomes a serial killer, but we know that behavioural problems in adults are often a result of childhood traumas."

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